Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chapter 42 [first part]

Which tells how Sir Florestan was the son of King Perion, and how he was born by a very beautiful damsel who was the daughter of the count of Selandia.

[Empress Irene, later venerated as Saint Irene, depicted in a mosaic in the Hagia Sophia Cathedral, Constantinople. Photo by Sue Burke.] 

I wish you to know how and in what land this valiant and intrepid knight Sir Florestan was engendered and by whom. Know ye that when King Perion was young, seeking adventures with his brave and valiant heart in many foreign lands, he spent two years in Germany, where he did so many great deeds at arms that they were told by all Germans as something to marvel at.

As he was returning to his own lands with much glory and fame, he happened to lodge one day in the house of the Count of Selandia, who was very happy to have him, because, like King Perion, he enjoyed practicing the exercise of arms and had achieved much praise and fame with them. He had also experienced the many troubles, labors, and pains that good knights are wont to suffer in the course of fulfilling their obligations, and so he held this Perion highly, for he was at the summit of his fame and glory in arms. The Count and did him as many honors and services as he could.

After they had eaten and spoken of things had happened to them, King Perion was called to a chamber, where he lay down in a rich bed, and because his travels had left him tired, he immediately fell asleep. But soon he found himself embraced by a very beautiful damsel who pressed her mouth on his. When he became fully awake, he wanted to get away, but she held him and said:

"What is this, my lord? Will ye not enjoy this bed more with me in it than alone?"

The King looked at her by the light of a candle in the room and saw that she was the most beautiful woman of all those he had ever seen, and he said:

"Tell me who ye are."

"Whoever I am," she said, "I love you deeply and I wish to give you my love."

"This cannot be if ye do not tell me first."

"Oh," she said, "how much sorrow this question gives me because ye might hold me as worse than I seem! But God knows I can do nothing else."

"It still must be that I know," he said, "or I shall do nothing."

"Then, I shall tell you," she said. "Know that I am the daughter of the Count."

The King said:

"A woman of such great means as you ought not do such madness. And now I tell you that I shall do nothing that shall cause your father great anger."

She said:

"Oh, they have wrongly praised you, for ye are the worst man in the world and the most disrespectful! What goodness is there in you after discarding someone so beautiful and noble?"

"Ye shall do that which shall be to your honor and to mine," the King said, "and not that which is contrary to either of them."

"No?" she said. "Then I shall cause my father greater anger at you than if ye were to do as I ask."

Then she got up and took the King's sword, which was next to his shield. It was the sword that would later be placed in the ark with Amadis when he was put to sea, as the beginning of this book has told you. She took it from its scabbard and put the point of it directly over her heart, and she said:

"Now I know that my father will grieve my death more than he would his own."

When the King saw this, he was shocked. He leaped out of the bed and told her:

"Wait, I shall do what ye wish."

He took the sword from her hand and embraced her amorously and fulfilled her will that night, from which she became pregnant. But the King never saw her again, for the next day he left the Count and continued on his way.

She disguised her pregnancy as best she could, but when the time for childbirth came, she could no longer do so. Instead, she arranged to have one of her damsels go with her to see her aunt, who lived near there, where she had been accustomed to go occasionally for recreation. As they were traveling through a small forest, childbirth suddenly came upon her, and she dismounted her palfrey and gave birth to a son. The damsel, who saw her in distress, put the child at her breast and said:

"My lady, use the same courage that ye had to err to be strong now until I return."

Then she mounted her palfrey and as fast as she could she rode to the aunt's castle and told her what had happened. When the aunt heard this, she was very sad, but she did not let that stop her from helping. She immediately mounted a horse and ordered a litter to be brought, which she had used at times to protect herself from the sun when she went to see the Count. When she came to the niece, she dismounted and wept with her and had her put into the litter with her son. They returned to the castle at night so that no one would see them except for the servants who carried the litter, and they had been strictly instructed to keep it secret.

Finally, when the damsel was better, she returned to her father the Count, and he knew nothing about what had happened. When the child was eighteen years old, he seemed very strong and valiant, more than any other young man in the county. The lady, when she saw him thus disposed, gave him a horse and arms and brought him to the Count, his grandfather, to be knighted, and who did so without knowing he was his grandson.

She returned to the castle with him, but on the way she told him that the truth was that he was the son of King Perion of Gaul and the grandson of the one who had made him a knight, and he should go meet his father, who was the best knight in the world.

"Truly, my lady," he said, "I have heard you speak highly of him many times, but I never thought he was may father, and by the faith I owe God and you who raised me, I swear that he shall never know me or anyone else, if I can help it, until people say that I deserve to be the son of such a fine man."

He said farewell to her, took two squires with him, and went to Constantinople, where it was well known that a cruel war being fought in the empire. He was there for four years, and he did such feats at arms that they held him to be the best knight they had ever seen. And when he saw that he had gained such honor and fame, he decided to leave for Gaul to meet his father.

But when he had neared those lands, he heard of the great fame of Amadis, who by then had begun to do amazing things, as well as that of Sir Galaor. He changed his mind, believing that his deeds were nothing compared to theirs, and he decided to begin again and gain honor there in Great Britain, where more than anywhere else knights were esteemed. He would hide his identity until his deeds had satisfied his desires.

And so he spent some time doing deeds of chivalry, gaining honor, until he fought with Sir Galaor, his brother, as ye have heard, and they learned who each other was in the way that was told above.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How the printing press changed "you"

When reading changed, so did writing. 

Upper excerpt: "...what happened to him shall be told farther on. At the time when these things took place, as ye have already heard, there reigned in Great Britain a king named Falagriz, who died without an heir, leaving..." — Amadis of Gaul, Chapter 3.

Lower excerpt: "Idle reader: thou mayest believe me without any oath that I wish this book, as the child of my thoughts, were the most beautiful, charming, and prudent that could be imagined. But I have not..." —
Don Quixote de la Mancha, Prologue. 

In the introduction to the Spanish Royal Academy's 400th Anniversary edition of Don Quixote de la Mancha, Mario Vargas Llosa writes:

"Cervantes, in order to tell Quixote's deeds, revolutionized the narrative forms of his time and established the foundation on which the modern novel was born. [...] Perhaps the most innovative aspect of Quixote is the way in which Cervantes faced the problem of the narrator, the basic problem that must be resolved by anyone who wants to write a novel: who is going to tell the story?"

I think we should also ask: who is the story going to be told to, and how? The answer to that question helps explain the difference in narrative forms between Amadis and Quixote.

Amadis was written in Castilla-León the late Middle Ages by anonymous authors, and it was one of a number of novels of chivalry popular at that time. This was before the printing press, so books were copied by hand on parchment, which made them expensive and rare. Most people didn't read much, especially for pleasure. Instead, they listened to books at group readings for entertainment, including readings of novels of chivalry. Pero López de Ayala wrote at the end of the 14th century, "It also pleased me to hear these books many times," especially Amadis.

Often enough, these books were read during meals to audiences distracted by the soup or their dinner partners. A good story required plenty of action to capture and recapture the audience's attention, as well as a declamatory narrative style. You can see this in the text, which often addresses the listeners as "vos" in Castilian or "ye" in English, which is the plural form of "you."

You would have heard this book, not read it. Indeed, the style of the original Castilian makes Amadis is a stirring book to read aloud to an audience.

But around 1440, Gutenberg invented the printing press. By 1604, when Quixote was published, books had become more common and relatively inexpensive. Reading had become a private activity, and so, in the prologue, Cervantes addresses his readers with the second-person-singular familiar form of "you": "thou."

That reader would curl up in a sunny alcove with Quixote as if it were a close friend, and the words from the page would travel directly to his or her thoughts. Cervantes could count on attentive readers, and so the kind of story he could tell them could be different: intimate and nuanced.

Technology had revolutionized the act of reading. It had revolutionized "you." As a result, it had also revolutionized writing — that is, it had changed what authors could do. The printing press initiated a period of great and fruitful literary experimentation.

Will the Internet cause a similar revolutionary change? Will it change "you"? If so, writing will change again, and a new kind of novel will be born.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chapter 41 [final half]

[How Sir Galaor and another son of King Perion of Gaul fought almost to the point of death, and how they learned who each others was.]

[Armor of the style worn about 1400, recovered from the ruins of the Venetian fortress at Chalcis on the Greek Island of Euboea. On display in the Arms and Armor collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.] 

When morning came, Sir Galaor armed himself and mounted his horse, ready to do battle, and the damsels and the other men also mounted, and they went on their way. Galaor continued to talk with the damsel and asked her if she knew the name of the knight.

"Truly," she said, "no man or woman in all this land knows except for his lover."

He then wished to know his name more than ever, and to know why, although the knight was so praised at arms, he wanted to hide his identity.

Soon, they had reached a plain where they saw a very beautiful castle on top of a high peak, and around it was a large, lovely field a league wide. The damsel told Sir Galaor:

"The knight ye seek is in this castle."

He was pleased to have found what he sought, and rode ahead and found a well-made stone pillar with a horn on top of it. The damsel said happily:

"Blow this horn so they hear you, and when the knight hears it, he will come."

Galaor did so, then he saw men leave the castle and put up a very beautiful tent in the field, and ten ladies and damsels came out, among them one very richly dressed who was the lady of the others, and they entered the tent. Galaor, as he watched, thought that the knight was slow in coming, and said to the damsel:

"Why doesn't the knight come out?"

"He will not come," she said, "until the lady orders it."

"Then I beg you, as a courtesy, to go to her and tell her to order him to come," he said, "because I have much to do elsewhere and cannot waste time."

The damsel did so. And when the lady heard what he had ordered, she said:

"What? Does he hold our knight so lightly and in such little esteem that he is already thinking of leaving? Well, our knight shall come sooner than he thinks and more to his harm than he thinks." Then she said to a page, "Go and tell the foreign knight to come."

The page did so. The knight left the castle armed and on foot, and his men brought his horse, shield, lance, and helmet. He approached the lady, and she told him:

"Ye see here a crazy knight who thinks he shall leave here easily. Now I tell you to make him pay for his madness." She embraced him and kissed him.

All this made Sir Galaor's anger grow. The knight mounted, took up his arms, and rode slowly down the hill, and he seemed so fine and well-arrayed that it was a marvel. Galaor laced on his helmet and took up his shield and lance, and when he saw the foreign knight on the plain, he told him to be on guard. The knights charged at each other. Their lances struck their shields, ran them through, and ripped their chain mail. Thus each one was badly injured, and their lances were broken, and they passed each other on their horses. Sir Galaor put his hand on his sword and turned around, but the knight did not take his from its scabbard, and instead said:

"Knight, by the faith that ye owe God and that which ye most love, let us joust again."

"Ye have invoked God so much that I shall," he said, "but I am sorry I did not bring such a good horse as yours, for if I had, we would not cease to joust until one of us fell or all the lances we had were broken."

The knight did not answer, but he ordered a squire to bring two lances. He took one and sent the other to Sir Galaor, and so they charged at each other again, and struck each others' shields so hard it was amazing. Galaor's horse was knocked to its knees and almost fell, and the foreign knight lost both stirrups and had to hold onto his horse by the neck. Galaor spurred his horse and put his hand on his sword, and the foreign knight righted himself in his saddle and felt very ashamed. Then he put his hand on his sword and said:

"Knight, ye wish to fight with swords, and truly I have avoided it more for you than for me, as ye now shall see."

"Do all in your power," Galaor said, "and I shall do the same until I die or avenge the knight that ye mistreated in the forest."

Then the knight looked at Galaor and recognized him as the knight who had called him to fight on foot, and he said with great anger:

"Avenge thyself if thou canst, although I believe thou shalt suffer one dishonor after the other."

Then they attacked so bravely that no man watching them did not feel great fear. The ladies and all those of the castle believed that since the joust had been so brave the two knights would reach an accord, but when they saw them fight with swords, instead it seemed so cruel and fierce that they would kill each other.

They attacked frequently and with such mortal blows that their helmets hit their breastplates against their will. They cut arcs of steel from the edges of their helmets, and the swords penetrated as far as their chain mail hoods, and the knights felt the blows on their scalps. Their shields were cut to shreds and the pieces were sown across the field, along with the rings from their chain mail.

This altercation lasted for such a long time that each was amazed that he had not defeated the other. At this time Sir Galaor's horse began to tire and grow faint, and it could no longer move with agility. This made him angry, for he believed that the horse was the reason he was taking so long to achieve victory. Meanwhile the foreign knight was attacking him with great blows, but could avoid him at will.

Whenever Galaor came close enough, he struck him so hard that he made him feel his sword in his flesh, but his horse was staggering blindly, about to fall. At that time Sir Galaor feared death more than in any other battle among the many he had seen except for the battle that he had fought with his brother Amadis, which he had believed he would never leave alive. After Amadis, he esteemed this knight more than any of the many others he had fought, but not so much that he thought he would loose unless his horse failed him. When he saw himself in those straits, he said:

"Knight, let us fight on foot, or give me a horse that can help me. If not, I must kill yours, and that villainy will be your fault."

"Do as ye wish," the knight said, "for our fight shall not last much longer. It has been a great shame to have it continue for so long."

"Then guard your horse," Galaor said.

The knight attacked, approaching very close so that his horse could not be killed. Galaor struck him on the shield and then saw that he was close, so he reached out and grabbed him as tightly as he could, spurred his horse, and pulled so hard that he dragged the other knight from his saddle. They both fell to the ground in each others' arms, but each one kept his grip on his sword, and so they rolled on the ground for a while, until each had broken free and arose on foot.

Then a battle began that was so brave and so cruel that they seemed to have just begun to fight. If the first one on horseback had seemed fierce and unforgiving to all who were watching, the second was even worse. Without hesitation they joined and attacked, and spent not a moment resting instead of fighting. Sir Galaor, who with his weak horse had not been able to attack at will, did so now, and delivered such strong and heavy blows that he almost knocked off the other's armor, but the knight defended himself well. When Galaor saw that his situation had improved greatly but that his opponent's had worsened, he pulled back and said:

"Good knight, stay a bit."

The other, who needed to rest, was still, and Galaor told him:

"Now ye see how I am the better in battle, and if ye wish to tell me your name and why ye keep it secret, I shall receive it with great pleasure and let you go. If not, I surely shall not release you by any means."

When he heard this, the knight said:

"It would not please me at all to be released that way from battle because I have never been the sort to do such things, I have never felt such a will to fight as I have now, and I have never found myself as courageous in battle as I find myself now. May God grant that I not be known except to my honor, especially to a single knight."

"Do not be so stubborn," Sir Galaor said, "for I swear to you that by the faith I have in God that I shall not rest until I know who ye are and why ye hide your identity."

"May God not help me if ye learn that from me," the knight said. "I would rather die in battle, especially by force of arms, than tell you. There are only two knights whom I do not know and whom I would tell if they wished to know, either by courtesy or by force of arms."

"Who are these whom ye esteem so?" Galaor said.

"This ye shall never learn from me, for it seems ye would take pleasure in it."

"By Holy Mary," Galaor said, "I shall get my answer from you, or one of us shall die, or both of us."

"I wish nothing else," said the knight.

Then they began to fight with such anger that their earlier wounds were forgotten, and their weakened strengths were revived, but the foreign knight could not take advantage of his strength or his ardor, for Galaor attacked him so fiercely that his armor, containing pieces of his flesh, fell from him, and so much blood flowed that the field was stained with it. When the lady of the island saw that her lover was at the point of death, he being the thing that she loved most in the world, her heart could not withstand any more and she ran to him as if crazy, and the other ladies and damsels behind her. And when she neared Sir Galaor, she said:

"Stay, knight, or the boat ye came on shall be destroyed, for ye have caused me such sorrow."

"Lady," Galaor said, "if it hurts you for me to avenge myself, the other has done more to cause the harm that we have both received, and I am not guilty."

"Do no harm to the knight," the lady said, "or ye shall die for it at the hands of one who shall have no mercy."

"I do not know how that will happen," Sir Galaor said, "but I shall not release him by any means until I get the answer to my question."

"And what have ye asked him?" she said.

"To tell me his name," he said, "and why he has kept it so secret and who are the two knights that he esteems more than any others in the world?"

"Cursed be he who taught you how to fight and ye who learned it," said the lady. "I shall tell you that which ye wish to know. I tell you that our knight is named Sir Florestan, and he hides himself because two knights who are his brothers have such great skill at arms that although his is as well developed, as ye have seen, he does not dare to let himself be known until he has achieved as much fame at arms as they have. And he shall do so, given his great valor. These two knights belong to the house of King Lisuarte, and one is named Amadis and the other Sir Galaor, and they are all three the sons of King Perion of Gaul."

"Why, Holy Mary, help me!" Sir Galaor said. "What have I done?" Then he surrendered his sword and said, "Good brother, take this sword and the honor of the battle."

"What?" he said. "I am your brother?"

"Yes, truly," he said, "and I am your brother, Sir Galaor."

Sir Florestan knelt before him and said:

"My lord, forgive me. I erred in fighting you because I did not know, and it was only so that without shame I could say that I am your brother and share a little of your great courage and fame at arms."

Galaor took him by the hands, rose him up and embraced him for a while, weeping with joy at having met him and with sorrow at seeing him in such dire straits and so injured, fearing that his life was in danger. When the lady saw this, she was very happy, and said to Galaor:

"My lord, if ye put me in great anguish, ye have erased it with double happiness."

She took them both with her to the castle, where in a beautiful room she had them rest in two beds with rich coverlets, and because she knew a great deal about how to cure wounds, she took it upon herself to care for them. She knew that the life of one was the life of both, due to the great love that they had shown each other, and her own would be in doubt if her dearly adored lover Sir Florestan were to be in danger. And so, as ye hear, the two brothers were under the protection of that famous and rich lady Corisanda, who valued their lives as much as she valued her own.